Hindu temple to welcome the gods
It sits on Route 59, the same road that bustles with morning traffic and sprouts gas stations, strip malls and other staples of daily suburban Chicago life.
But the Hindu temple that rises in Bartlett, creamy white stone against a blue August sky, seems at least a world away.
Hand-carved Italian marble and Turkish limestone, formed into intricate arches; columns and ceilings with chiseled deities, spirals and shapes that make your eyes dance in awe; a gleaming roof topped in pinnacles and gold-plated spires.
Children in Indian dress, their hands clasped with palms together, greet visitors who climb the stairs – shoeless, as is customary, feet bare against the cool limestone.
“You have that feeling of India with you now,” says Purvi Patel, a temple (or mandir) tour guide for the day. “I was in awe seeing this.”
Smiling, she confides she already can feel it – the unmistakable presence of the gods -though the temple, a 22,400-square-foot masterpiece, is just a building for now. The gods do not arrive until Sunday.
“It will be a whole other feeling that’s elevated to I don’t even know what extent,” Patel said.
As many as 7,000 visitors, most of them Hindus from around the world, are expected to turn out Sunday for the temple’s grand moment: A consecration ceremony that will see the gods brought in, set upon their elaborate shrines and have life breathed into them.
His Divine Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a leader from India that for Swaminaryans is the equivalent of the Catholic pope, will lead the event.
The deities, however, will make their public debut in Chicago this morning, in a parade downtown.
“I’m very excited,” Patel said Friday. “I’ve been waiting for this for a very, very long time.”
Built in the style of 9th- and 10th-century Indian architecture, the temple was created for the Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Hindu sect, which has 1,000 to 2,000 members in the Chicago area, leaders said.
But it is expected to become an international landmark and a place of peace, no matter the religion.
“We do welcome one and all,” said Kalpesh Patel, a BAPS Midwest board member. “We encourage everyone to come here and talk to us and visit.”
A similar temple, in a suburb of London, was met with some anxiety from non-Hindus when it was built in the mid-1990s. But as time wore on, the leaders said, it brought a sense of calm and became a tourist destination.
“We sort of added value,” said Girish Patel, a London resident and part of the BAPS press team. The Bartlett temple, he added, “will be a positive landmark which residents of Bartlett will be proud of.”
Visiting hours haven’t been determined. BAPS leaders plan to handle this weekend’s expected crowds with an added police presence and additional parking off the main campus.
Shuttles will also run to the temple from three outlying sites: Bartlett High School; a spot near North Avenue and Route 59; and the Charlestowne Mall on North Avenue in St. Charles.
Overflow crowds that can’t squeeze into the new temple will be accommodated in a looming outside tent nearby. The Bartlett campus also has a sprawling main hall, linked to the temple by underground tunnels, that can help with the expected throng.
That hall, opened in 2000, is considered the first phase of an eventual three-phase project. It will host Sunday Mass and several other programs.
The majestic new temple, the project’s second phase, will be treated as a place for more personal prayer and reflection. Its main gate is lined by watchful gods, and Hindus believe that upon entering any impure thoughts will be washed away.
Eventually, a third phase will see construction of a cultural center, but that’s years away.
Construction costs for the hall and temple together total about $15 million, leaders said, though the exact price is hard to determine because of the time and effort poured into the project – from quarrying the stone in Europe to carving it in India and laying it here – by thousands of eager volunteers.
The temple has 40,000 pieces of stone (the smallest a few grams, the largest several tons) carved and shipped from India by sea and railway and laid seamlessly on a limestone and concrete foundation (no steel) that leaders say should last 1,000 years.
Construction started in April 2003.
On Friday, it was down to the finishing touches. The winding drive, billowing dust from construction work, was spotted by fountains that sat dry. Hundreds of potted flowers awaited planting. Volunteers lined up to help where needed, one group managing to line an entire brick walkway in a few hours’ time.
And inside the temple, a warm breeze blew through windows awaiting glass panes.
Purvi Patel grinned, turning her eyes to the intricately cut ceiling – chunks of stone flanked by 151 carved pillars.
“I could sit here for hours and never get bored,” she said Friday. “That’s personally how I feel, and I’m sure that many others will feel the same way.”Temple: Downtown Chicago parade planned for today